by Chet Hardin
U.S. Sen.Michael Bennet has introduced an amendment today that would ban former members of Congress from going to work lobbying Congress.
As put in a press statement from the Colorado senator, the amendment would close the "revolving door of lobbyist influence."
While this does seem like a good step, it's just one step toward much-needed reform.
As the case of Republican presidential candidate, and former U.S. House Speaker, Newt Gingrich makes clear, there are plenty of ways to peddle influence in Washington without registering as a lobbyist, or even calling what you do "lobbying."
Under the federal lobbying law, Newt Gingrich can legitimately claim that he is not a lobbyist. That alone demonstrates how much the law needs to be changed.
As his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, regularly and correctly points out, Mr. Gingrich has made a great deal of money in Washington peddling his influence, while carefully staying about half-an-inch short of the legal definition of lobbyist. He is only one of thousands of people in Washington’s influence industry who skirt the common-sense definition of lobbying by taking advantage of the law’s loopholes.
From Bennet's press statement:
“Too often, the outsized influence of lobbyists in Washington drowns out the voices of regular Americans and prevents Congress from acting in the interest of the American people,” Bennet said. “By preventing members of Congress from lobbying when they leave Capitol Hill and preventing congressional staff from going back and forth through the revolving door, public officials can get about the business of helping the country.”
A study by the Center for Responsive Politics recently found that about a third of former members of the 111th Congress who are currently employed are employed at lobbying firms, and more than 12,500 registered federal lobbyists actively lobbied in Washington in 2011.
To solve for the problem of outsized lobbyist influence and to close the revolving door, Bennet and [Democratic Sen. Jon] Tester [of Minnesota] have proposed aggressive lobbying reform, which would:
• Place a lifetime ban on current members of Congress from becoming lobbyists;
• Ban congressional staff from lobbying their former boss for six years;
• Ban former committee staff from lobbying their former boss or any member who was then on the committee during their time on staff for six years;
• Ban lobbyists from joining congressional staffs or committee staffs that they lobbied for six years;
• Fully close the loophole that allows politicians to fly private charters but reimburse only at commercial first class rates, and require those politicians to disclose what lobbyists they are flying with;
• Create a more accessible website for public reporting of lobbying activities;
• Require substantial lobbying entities to report on the non-lobbyist employees they have who are former members of Congress or former senior congressional staff, and describing those employees’ job responsibilities;
• Ban cash contributions by lobbyists; and
• Increase the maximum penalty for violating federal lobbying laws.
The bill improves disclosure requirements and encourages greater information sharing between record keepers and law enforcement. Through increased transparency, not just by federal lobbyists, but also by firms and companies that may have former members of Congress who are skirting the lobbyist line, the public will be better informed, and the lobbying profession will be deterred from acting below board. Lobbyists who break the law will be more likely to be investigated and the bad actors can be punished more severely. It also provides the public greater with better information and takes an important step towards cleaning up the culture in Washington.
This is the latest in Bennet’s efforts to reform the system in Washington. He has previously pushed for a variety of changes in his Plan for Washington Reform.
Since coming to the Senate in 2007, Tester led the charge to raise the ethics standards for the U.S. Senate. He set an even higher standard for his personal office and will not allow former staffers-turned lobbyists to ever come back to lobby him or his staff.